In Stock or Made-To-Order? What Works Best for Etsy Sales?

Every Etsy Seller has to make a choice. Make orders as they come in, or make them ahead of time and only list them when they’re ready to go. These are two distinct ways of doing business and both have advantages and disadvantages.

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Made-To-Order

This is how I first started on Etsy. I designed and made some felt hair clips, listed them, and sold them. So far, so good.

After that first item was sold, I would relist it for sale again even though I had not yet made another. After awhile, most of the items for sale in my shop were not “in-stock”. I made each order as it came in and usually shipped it out within a few days.

This process had some advantages. When sales were hot, I could relist the same item and sell it three times in a day without making a thing that day. I was able to have a much larger selection in my shop, which absolutely makes a difference in sales. There is no doubt that shops with more items listed get more business.

Another advantage was that I really had the feeling I was making money when I was working because my item was already sold. Making something “on spec” hoping to sell it later sometimes brings that wicked little voice that says: “you’re wasting your time!” Why won’t she just shut up?

If you sell a product that includes expensive material, making the item ahead of the sale might be more costly than you can afford. By going the made-to-order route you can at least improve this scenario.

Finally, there is the point of customizations. I used to sell lots of hair clips with initials or other little custom touches. I also offered custom color options. While some customizations, such as monogramming, can easily be added to an already made item, the made-to-order route offers more flexibility.

However, even with all those advantages, when I started making and selling my beautiful lavender filled sachets at The Lavender Road, I moved away from the made-to-order way of doing business.

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In Stock: Only List Made Items

I’m a homeschooling mom of two boys and the wife to a very demanding husband (just kidding, sort of…). My Etsy shop alternates between part-time, full-time, and no-time randomly. I knew from experience that making orders which had already been paid for brought stress I just really didn’t need.

When someone has paid you in advance, they expect and deserve service. I knew that I didn’t want that responsibility to just pop-up on me at a time I couldn’t control. By making my items ahead of time, all I have to do is complete an address label (see our post on USPS Shipping Assistant Software), and send it out. Way better!

I also found that buyers were often turned away by the “please allow 7-10 days for delivery” no matter how sweet I worded the part about each thing being made-to-order with love, blah, blah, blah. Not that I wasn’t serious about that. Buyers want it yesterday, plain-and-simple.

Fast shipping always gets good feedback and it helps new buyers feel secure in placing an order.

This method also allows me to have so much more control over when I work on my Etsy shop. When I want to be busy, I can make a large selection and then set about listing and marketing them. When I want to take a break, I just let my listings dwindle and don’t relist items in my shop as often.

Word of caution: The idea of starting and stopping your shop isn’t the best for business. I do it because it works for our life, but it isn’t the way to build a really busy and successful Etsy shop. That requires consistency, a large selection, lots of new listings, and marketing your shop constantly. The start/stop method is more for shops that are considered part-time or hobbies.

For me, the In-Stock method has worked-out better. I’d love to hear what method you use and what makes it best for you!

Comments

  1. says

    Definitely, In Stock!
    I have a full-time 9-5 gig and live with Fibromyalgia. I’m always exhausted and have found that making aprons when I have the energy and time, rather than trying to fill orders/custom requests, is the only way I get to keep the love for making aprons. Sadly, often some customers don’t get that.

  2. says

    As a customer, I really do want it yesterday. And, since I’m lazy, I frequently don’t read the fine print that says you make each one to order with love blah blah blah, I get a bit irked when I learn later that it DOES take that long. So. Yeah. The moral is that your customers are often lazy jerks!
    .-= NGS´s last blog ..A Trip to the Library =-.

  3. says

    I make applique shirts, & fabric headbands. I have found that if I make shirts up ahead of time that they do NOT sell. It’s just too hard to have the right size in the right color, with the right design. The made ahead shirts…most of them have been there for months even a year or so. However, the custom made shirts sell relatively well. I can customize the size, colors, and even the design to fit the buyers needs. I can make my headbands up ahead and some of those will still sell pretty well. My shop is just a hobby- so I have a LONG shipping time (4-6 weeks) just to keep myself from being stressed. I probably could sell more if my shipping time was shorter, but I’m just about as busy as I want to be. My goal is to have one to two orders a week… which works well for me.

  4. says

    This was a very good article. Thank you for discussing this topic. I have often debated this issue in my head and it was nice to hear someone’s opinion who has gone both routes~Lisa

  5. says

    Oh my goodness. I have been trying to explain this to my husband. He asks me why I don’t offer custom/made to order items. I explained to him that I do not want to have that kind of pressure. He doesn’t understand.

    I have a 6yr old in Kindergarten. A 4 yr old and 20 month old at home. Any given time someone may get sick. I will not put my shop before my family so where would that leave my customer? You are so right when someone pays for an item they deserve service and should get their item(s) in a timely fashion. To me 7 – 10 days is not acceptable, but that’s just me.

    About 2 months ago I had to put my toddler store on vacation because I got in a funk LOL

    In stock method is definitely for me. Besides sometimes I don’t feel like making stuff because I’m either tired or just burnt out with other things

  6. says

    As I’m starting up my new shop in the next month, after deciding my previous one was destined for failure before it began, I’m struggling with which way to do this myself. I think my shop is going to have to be a combination of both pre-made and made to order items, for my sanity as well as a way to keep items in my shop.
    .-= Heather´s last blog ..Yoplait Greek Yogurt =-.

  7. says

    Thank you so much for this and your other posts! I am a newbie seller on Etsy. I started listing items on January 24th of this year. I still have not made a sale. I get that little voice in my head often and it is discouraging. I get busy with orders from friends and family but so far no luck in the Etsy world. All my items are in stock with an option for made to order if they want the item in another color. Thanks again for all your articles. They’ve provided me great tools for my business. <3
    .-= Nic-e Hemsley´s last blog ..National Crochet Month =-.

  8. says

    I sell mini-scrapbooks and do a little of both (in-stock & custom). Custom orders keep me busy and I love that they’re already sold…but sometimes I like to just stock my shop with what I want to make! Usually when my shop is looking empty (like it is now!) it’s because I’ve been busy catching up on custom orders or orders outside Etsy. So the definite disadvantage to doing custom orders is that it makes it more difficult to list new items as frequently as I’d like.

    Another disadvantage for me is that custom orders typically require either a trip to the supply store or require me to place a supply order online…both of which take time and add to the turnaround time. Since I already commute 2 hours daily for my job, special trips to the store really cut into my production time.

    The BIG advantage though of doing custom order is that I have lots of repeat buyers. When then need another gift, they send me a convo! A great business builder!

    Judy
    http://apicketfencelife2.blogspot.com/
    .-= Judy´s last blog ..Graduation 2010 Paper Bag Scrapbook =-.

  9. says

    I have been selling on Etsy for over 2 years and do a combination of in-stock and custom-orders. I find my custom items give me the most business, as they are things that are hard for people to find (roman blinds, curtains, duvet covers, etc). These items are also expensive to stock. I also offer smaller items like napkins, placemats and gift bags, which I can make ahead of time and allow me to have lots of listings. I guess you have to find what works for you! Custom home decor is my full-time business – I work long hours, but my youngest is 17!

  10. says

    This article nails it on the head for me! Pros and cons to both. I actually have wound up offering both…I have a full custom slot always available (most people don’t take the time to pick their own colors though), and a semi-custom (made to order in your size with X colors shown), and in stock…size and color made and ready to ship. I sell about the same of each…some customers buy up every one of size Med I have, regardless of pattern and I wish I had put up more, but then, sometimes they sit for months until the right person comes along. Tough balance!
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..Fleece diaper cover/soaker with doubler – bears/fish – CLEARANCE =-.

  11. says

    A combination works best for me. Crochet beanies in every size and color combo would not be the best use of my time, but making them to order is.

    Hairclips can be easily made ahead of time so I would like to have them in stock.

  12. says

    I agree. It think ready to go is the best. I’m just having trouble finding little things to make and list in between getting afghans crocheted. I’ve made a couple of special orders, and I do feel under pressure to get them done. Love your article. Thanks

  13. says

    I am mostly an in stock person. I don’t buy enough yarn to duplicate an item so what you see is what you buy and what you get and usually no more. I always entertain custom and then the buyer knows there’ll be a wait. The same for my clocks, rarely can I make an identical 2nd or 3rd.
    .-= Barbra´s last blog ..Patchwork Hoop Art =-.

  14. says

    I have done some custom orders, but I find that ready to ship is much better for me and my shop. You’re right starting and stopping a shop is hard on business. However sometimes it’s impossible to avoid. Exercise open and closed with caution, I am currently trying to rebuild my business after being closed for a move that wasn’t anticipated. Luckily it happened in the slower part of the year. Great article, thanks for posting!
    .-= Stacy´s last blog ..Refashion (Part 2) =-.

  15. says

    I offer both in my shop, & I enjoy being able to just hit “re-list” on so many of my cards. When those cards sell, however, I’m usually a little disappointed that the ready-made pieces weren’t the ones picked. I like to craft when I feel like doing it and a lot of times it seems that orders come in when I am not in the mood (or don’t have the time). My favorite way of doing things is already made goodies.

    Genevieve
    .-= Genevieve´s last blog ..Handmade HAPPY BIRTHDAY Retro Kitchen Greeting Card =-.

  16. says

    I mostly have in stock items but find when I want to keep something popular or recently sold up for sale in my store I list them on a made to order basis and then if they don’t sell before I finish them I just change the listing to in stock. This way hopefully customers always see what they are looking for. Great article!

  17. says

    Great information! My shop is new and many of my pillow covers are one of a kind so are in stock. I do make sure that all of my fabric is cut, organized and ready to sew on any other covers so that they can be shipped quickly. Right now I’m working on getting my stock up, which is so hard for a new store – especially since I also have my own interior design business to run. Thanks for giving me something to think about!

  18. says

    I do both. I have listings for making custom bags with links to examples and fabric choices, and I also have listings for stuff already made. Custom bags I try to have out the door within a couple of days of agreeing on details.

    My custom fabric labels are of course made-to-order but I do promise a 24 hour turnaround period once all details have been settled. So within 24 hours of agreeing on a design I print, cut and package it all up.
    .-= Maria M´s last blog ..And More Winners!! =-.

  19. says

    Except for my monogram pendants, which are custom orders, all my other jewelry is made and ready to ship! When I purchase online I can hardly wait to receive it in the mail and I think most people are that way. Plus, I work an over 40 hour a week very stressful job, so I create my jewelry working around that, my family, re-fabbing furniture, cooking and gardening. Geez, no wonder I’m tired.
    .-= Elizabeth Bailey´s last blog ..Imperfectly Beautiful: Shabby Chic Rosettes – No Sew =-.

  20. says

    Awesome tips. I am opening my etsy store in a couple of weeks and your articles are soooooo great to have them prior to make my decisions…
    TFS..

  21. Lauren says

    Very nice article! I am currently in the process of making up items for an inventory of knitted/crocheted goods in order to open an Etsy shop next month, and I plan on starting with the in-stock method. I have a 9-5 job and honestly I am nervous I will get too many orders to complete in a timely manner (probably a dream I’d be that successful, but you never know!). I’d like to maybe switch over to made-to-order once I get a feel for how business is.

  22. shelley says

    I have items available but i also have the option of the customer being able to customize any one. that way, i am sure i can satisfy my customer any way…if I don’t have the colors/animal in stock, I can make it!

  23. says

    I have an applique shirt and other fabric decor shop as well as another store that sells handmade frames.
    For both of them I do made-to-order, and it has worked very well for me. However, I also do lots of local craft shows and markets and tried the made-to-order with the shirts and it was a total bomb. Also around the holidays, and for holiday specific items, I usually do many of those and list them as in stock. This is pretty easy since I just cut out the appliques ahead of time and sew on the shirts people order.
    The key thing I have found is that regardless of how you do it, if you say it’s going to ship within a certain time (be it next day, 3-5 days, etc), you better ship it within that time.

  24. says

    I prefer in-stock option. My jewels are handmade and most of them one of a kind so I prefer that the customer see the exact picture of what he is going to get :)

  25. says

    This is such a touchy subject for me! Custom orders stress me out!! WAYYYY tooo much! So much, Mr. D has advised me not to take on anymore. But then I get a sweet lady asking me to make something for her dear sweet grandmother, and well…I turn to jello and say yes. Meanwhile, I’m stressed that I have to make something to exact specifications, and it’s totally taken all artistic creativity out of the entire thing, which is the whole reason I do what I do. Let me sum up…it just takes all the fun out of it!

    Thank you for allowing me to get all that out! BTW Great post!

  26. says

    Hello Kim,
    With the exception of custom orders on my Couture Aprons, I have everything made and always ready to ship. I have always been baffled by the Etsy shops who have very basic items with long order fullfillment schedules. Why does it take them so long. That’s what keeps me out of their shops.
    I’m too impatient I guess ;-)

    Great post.

    Janet xox

  27. says

    I do a combination: I have one section of ready-to-ship items and the rest are custom-made. If I have something I’ve made in the past, but it sells, no point in wasting those product photos! So I relist it as a made-to-order item. However, I’m always creating new products at the same time, so those ones are immediately available.

  28. says

    Great article (as usual!) with wonderful insight. I would say my shop is about 85% selling what I have made already, then 15% custom orders. I prefer to have in-stock items because as mentioned by others, I can do them when I have the time (and energy) and list them as I’m able. I always stress out more when it’s a custom order, because I want to give superb service & ship ASAP. I enjoy doing custom orders, but there is a balance involved – the client hopefully understands it will take time to create, but I also want to do it as efficiently as possible to accommodate them. I tell people that my typical turn-around time is 72 hours (which is more than is normally needed), then they are pleased when the item is done sooner than promised. It seems to work well for me. I guess the bottom line is that each seller has to determine what works best for their creations…then run with it! :)

  29. says

    Both! I didn’t even think about offering such things as custom robots, but a buyer came to ME asking! So I offer gaggles or pre-made robot sculptures and custom. The pre-made bots offer potentiometer buyers good visual ideas and keep my shop filled… or at least I try to. :)

  30. says

    Great article – thanks!
    All of my items are made and in-stock, ready to ship. A couple of my leather bracelets can be purchased as-is, or can be custom branded, but that only takes an extra day. I do ship Priority Mail in the U.S. so customers get their orders very quickly, and that has been a huge hit with them.
    Although my shop doesn’t have many sales, maybe averaging one a month if I’m lucky, most of my sales come from friends and family. If you want a custom piece, or have questions, I love to talk about it, and discuss the possibility. Some things I can do, some I can’t!
    ~Heidi

  31. says

    As a customer, I do like to get my buys ASAP. But if it’s a unique product or something I want customized, I would be happy to wait a few days. It only upsets me if it takes more than the time stated to get orders out.

    I don’t live in the US, so shipping takes longer and is sometimes unpredictable – maybe that makes me more willing to wait. I don’t know if other international customers feel the same, maybe that’s one thing to consider for sellers.

  32. says

    I do made to order, but I keep everything really fast. I’ve even shipped to Australia, made to order within a week. I under promise and over deliver. That makes everyone happy, and sometimes, I will get stuck with life, and need the full amount of time I’ve given the customer, so it works out. I find my customers really like all of the custom choices.

    Sometimes, when my fabric supplier changes things, I don’t have all of my fabrics in stock, and they have to be ordered, but I try to keep a good number of selections in stock. I choose fabrics that I can get online, as well as at my local fabric store for back up.

    This article was really interesting…thank you! I was looking through for help on finding a good online accounting system, and couldn’t find anything. Do you or Tim have any suggestions?

    I was using Outright, but they have problems doubling up my transactions, and I can’t get an accurate read. My accountant forces me to use Quicken, but I can’t stand it…it doesn’t show me anything. I keep that for him, but do you know of something similar to Outright?
    Thanks so much!!

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